Janine Kessler, M.S., CCC-SLP, has over 20 years of speech therapy experience in schools and has been a teletherapist with PL since 2017. She grew up in Canada, owns a home in Missoula, Montana, and currently lives in Sacramento, CA. Janine and her husband love to travel.
What inspired you to become an SLP?
Growing up I thought I might want to be a teacher. I liked the idea of being in education. My dad had a friend whose daughter was a speech-language pathologist. One thing led to another and pretty soon I was going to college for speech therapy. I was always attracted to the kids in school who struggled with learning. Even in college, we had to take education classes for our undergraduate degree. When we had to go observe and help in a classroom, I always gravitated towards the kids with special needs.
What made you want to become a teletherapist with PL?
My husband has a job that has us moving every 6 to 10 months. Right now we live in Sacramento, California. When my husband started doing this traveling work, I tried to get short term jobs but it just didn’t work. Someone suggested teletherapy and I thought, “No, I don’t want to do that. It just can’t work.” I was very skeptical. I didn’t think it could be effective. I just couldn’t imagine not being in the room with the kids. Then he got the job in Sacramento. I actually interviewed in 2 different places here in the city. I am used to living in North Dakota and Montana. The traffic in Sacramento had me white knuckled and stressed. I was so freaked out. That’s when I decided, “I’m going to try teletherapy.” I stumbled upon PL and I believe in it now. I’ve converted.
What does your husband do that requires you to move so often?
He’s a traveling physician’s assistant. Most people are familiar with traveling nursing—it’s similar. His company fills short term needs all over the country. When we’re finished here in Sacramento, there will be about 6 new openings in other states where his company needs people to cover. We’ll pick one in another state and go there next.
How long have you been doing this and how many states have you lived in?
We’ve lived in 4 states in the last 3 years (Wisconsin, California, Oregon, Montana). It’s so easy now. When we were making our last move, we were in Montana for Christmas with our family. My husband didn’t have to be in Sacramento until a week or two after my students came back to school. So we were still in Montana and I could still see my kids for that week from our house. And then we made the trip down here to Sacramento. I didn’t have to miss anything. I had one day where I had some substitute PL providers cover a few of my sessions while we were driving. In my situation, this is the perfect job.
Cross-licensing in another state can be challenging. Do you get started on the credential before you move to the next location?
I learned the hard way on cross-licensing. We moved to Montana and I didn’t start the license process until after we were there. That delayed me in even applying for some jobs. My husband’s next job was Wisconsin. The same thing happened. By the time I had the license, I realized there really weren’t any openings for me right there in the city where we were. The next job was going to be in California so I finally got on the bandwagon. I applied for my CA license 3 months before the move so that as soon as we got there, I could start working. And that ended up being right when I started with PL. Now I apply for my cross license as soon as I know.
Could you walk us through your daily routine? A “day in the life of a PL therapist” if you will?
Usually I get up in time to do some exercise and a little meditation plus some time to do some lesson plans before I see my first student. Those are the 3 things I try to get done. And a cup of coffee of course.
It seems like nearly every day there’s a glitch in the schedule…somebody has a fire drill. Or there was somebody sick. Today it was state testing. “Oops, you can’t see Miguel.” What I love is that I can catch up on some IEP paperwork, throw a load of clothes into the dryer, make a quick phone call to someone or respond to emails that are backing up. It seems like in between students if I have a little pocket of time, I can even get supper started. That’s one of the benefits of being right here at home. I can run to the next room and do something. And in those little breaks between students I sometimes go lay on the floor to stretch my shoulders or do some exercises because sitting on the chair too long sometimes gives me tight muscles.
When I am finished with my last student, I walk away from the computer because I’ve been sitting for a long time and need to move. I either go for a walk or do something in the kitchen. I try to get back within an hour to do my SOAP notes and billing because I don’t want it to get out of control. I just don’t like having it hanging over my head. I like to have it done before my husband gets home so our evenings are free.
After the SOAP notes are done, it seems like something has usually come up in a session or in an email from a coworker and I need to find an activity to address that need, so in the evenings I sometimes do some research online to find particular activities. Or I might try to contact parents to schedule an upcoming IEP meeting.
I use Toggl to keep track of my time. If I am working on an IEP in the evening, I can hit start and work on the first 3 pages, hit stop, go do something else, and come back and hit start again. At the end of the evening, if I’ve spent 50 minutes in 3 different chunks of time, I can document that easily.
Can you tell us about your caseload?
I have kindergarten through 5th graders, all in one school. I have lots of articulation cases, a few kids on the autism spectrum—we’re working on social skills—and a few language/ vocabulary-type kiddos. Last year I had kids in 5 schools. This year I am only in one school. I have less than 15 hours per week scheduled of direct time. I work very part time. That’s because with our traveling lifestyle we want to go out and see the places where we’re living. I’m really fortunate not to have to work very many hours. So I have a very light caseload.
What do you and your husband enjoy doing with your free time?
If he unexpectedly gets a day off, or gets home early, we’ll go on a walk. We like to hike. We golf. We usually find a church where we’ve moved and get involved. We go to plays and movies and just see the sights of wherever we’re living. We have a long list of restaurants that we want to try. We’re working on getting to as many restaurants as possible.
What do you enjoy about being a provider with PL?
I enjoy being able to see a few students and then throw in a load of laundry or do some tidying up around my house and then get back to work with the next group of students. It keeps my days interesting and productive.
What were you most surprised about when you made the transition to be a teletherapist?
I was surprised at how many schools and how many therapists are using the teletherapy option. I had no idea this was such a common practice. I was also surprised that my sessions with students via teletherapy “feel” very similar to the sessions I did with students in person. For some reason I expected the interactions with the students to be “limited” or “different” in some way. I was pleasantly surprised at how easy it is to establish a relationship with the students through our regular meetings in the virtual therapy room.
What do you find most challenging about being a teletherapist?
The thing I miss about being physically present in a school is the ability to spontaneously walk down the hall and talk with a teacher about a student. I also don’t get to peek into the classroom to see how my students are doing in their classroom environment. I miss both of those.
Have you found any workarounds for these challenges with teletherapy?
I have had some success with a couple of kids because I figured out ways to reach out and communicate with those specific teachers, and earn their trust. I think the teachers don’t have any idea who this person is that’s trying to reach them. From their perspective, they’re getting an email from a complete stranger who is not anywhere nearby. I think a lot of the time they’re reluctant.
For example, I think one teacher was defensive because I was offering some suggestions about her student. I was asking some questions and I think she had the impression that I was scrutinizing her as a teacher. Maybe that’s because of something that happened in the past. But gradually with enough communication she has figured out I am on her side, I DO have something to offer, and this student has made a lot of progress. The last time we spoke on the phone, she was talking about how happy she was that this student has made such progress. But I had to help her get past that fear of me being a critic from somewhere off in the distance. Establishing the relationship and earning her trust took some time.
I have used the PL introduction templates from the Help Center and emailed them to teachers to introduce myself. I made mine as a Powerpoint slide. When I first started at the school, I sent my introduction to the primary support person (PSP), the principal, and the school psych—all the people I knew I’d be interacting with. Unfortunately it was mid-October at that point. School was already in session and I don’t think the classroom teachers had a chance to understand who we were and what was going on. We weren’t really officially introduced. The special ed teachers knew who I was but the classroom teachers didn’t. I’ve learned from that. Next fall I plan to do something different to make sure people know who we are right from the beginning.
I have a wonderful PSP at this school. She’s been a good middle person. When I say I can’t get a response from a teacher, my PSP helps the teacher understand who I am and what I am asking for. I find that the PSP can make a big difference.
Could you share some specifics about the PL product that have helped you in your practice?
It takes time to dig through the library to find what you want a lot of times. But because there’s such a variety of people with so much creativity putting things in the library, it helps expand my repertoire of activities. I find things I never would have thought to do, and I realize, “Oh, I never would have thought to work on it that way!”
The Lounge has also been just as helpful because of the conversations that take place between therapists. I’ll ask, “Who has an idea of how to work on this?” The Lounge has been a good learning place for me, giving me fresh ideas. For example, I was administering the CASL and I wanted to score it. I tried to score it the online way but I thought if I could score it manually, I could score it faster. So I posed a question, “Does anyone else think it might be easier to score the CASL on paper than online?” I found that a lot of other people were scoring it by hand as well.
Advice for therapists considering a transition to teletherapy?
I would say find a way to watch a teletherapist in action. For me, that would have resolved all my skepticism. Seeing what it actually looks like is important. A second thing, when I first started, around week 3, I thought I was going to lose my mind. There were so many things I was forgetting—where do I find this, which website is it, where do I click for this or that? I thought I wouldn’t ever learn it all, or be able to remember everything there was to learn. The learning curve seemed insurmountable, but then it drastically changed—a month in, I finally had a rhythm and had the necessities figured out. So reaching out to ask for help in those first 3 weeks is important. I remember thinking, “Oh, I have this same stupid question. I couldn’t find it last week and now I can’t find it again. I shouldn’t ask.” But I SHOULD have just asked. Don’t be afraid to ask questions!
Do you have anything else you’d like to share?
I actually saw something today about online therapy. A therapist was asking a question on a blog about what video conferencing technology they should use if they were considering doing teletherapy. They were asking for advice so they could do teletherapy all on their own. I would never want to do that. PL has such a solid infrastructure—the platform is secure and private. The billing, the clients, the business pieces—I don’t have to worry about any of that—PL takes care of that. I would really encourage people to consider PL if they’re thinking about teletherapy. I am very happy working with PresenceLearning.
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